The Federal Government has again snubbed a recommendation by the Economic Sustainability Committee led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and decided to re-open orientation camps nationwide next Tuesday amid Rising COVID-19 infections .The Osinbajo-led committee had in June 2020 recommended that while the National Youth Service Corps programme could continue, the three-week orientation exercise should be suspended for two years.
The recommendation read in part, “The immediate focus in the education sector is to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensuring social distancing measures at all levels of education.
“In a similar context, consideration will be given to suspending the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp exercises for at least 24 months while allowing deployment to places of primary assignment. This will ensure that there is no backlog in the national service placement pipeline.”
It was learnt that when the spread of COVID-19 dropped late last year, camps were re-opened in November but the nation again recorded a surge.
A top health official said the increase in activities including the re-opening of NYSC camps and the #EndSARS protests contributed to the spike in COVID-19 cases which has now exceeded 100,000.
He said, “The whole world knows that increased human interactions lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections. Even in the UK and the USA, schools have been re-opened and shut at different times but the key thing is to reduce human interaction as much as possible.
“The truth is that re-opening of NYSC camps is avoidable. Corps members could have been given virtual orientation lectures and posted to their places of primary assignment. That was what the Vice-President’s committee recommended. There is no way these camps will not record infections.
“Will there not be human interactions? Wouldn’t there be physical activities, sports or marching parades? Would corps members be wearing masks inside the hostels?”
A presidential aide, however, said he had no clue as to why the recommendation of the vice president was ignored.
“We are all surprised that the NYSC is going ahead with re-opening orientation camps at a time when infections are increasing. It is completely avoidable because the orientation can be done online and corps members can get their postings afterwards,” the aide said.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, did not take his call when attempted to get his reaction on Friday evening.
He had yet to reply a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
The message sent to him read, “Good evening sir. We want Presidency’s reaction to the fact that the NYSC shunned recommendation by ESP led by the VP that orientation camps be shut for at least two years because of COVID. Thank you sir.”
However, when asked why the government was going ahead with the orientation exercise, a source in the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development told this newspaper that the government had bowed to pressure due to economic considerations.
He said some persons had been given NYSC contracts, adding that closing orientation camps could lead to huge losses.
The source said, “About 90 per cent of the budget of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development goes to the NYSC. You can check it. There is no way the government will suspend the orientation programme for two years. The orientation camp is a key component of the NYSC. Contracts have been given.
“It was just like when the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs insisted on continuing with the school feeding programme even when schools were shut during the lockdown.”
Speaking on why the Federal Government was going ahead with the orientation exercise despite the recommendation by Osinbajo’s committee, the Director-General of the Nigerian centre for Disease control Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the government could not stop all activities because of COVID-19.
Ihekweazu said this while reacting to a question from our correspondent at a virtual briefing of the World Health Organisation on Thursday.
He said, “From the beginning of this outbreak, every country has had to make hard decisions and if you are not in that decision-making seat, you probably don’t understand how hard this is. Do you stop a child from going to school for one year or do you manage this outbreak and close schools? We cannot afford to close down schools, close everywhere, working places, close ports. It is just not possible.
“So, we have got to find a way to continue moving forward with certain aspects of daily life in a controlled way, mitigating risks as much as possible.”
The NCDC boss said measures had been put in place just like in November 2020 to ensure that NYSC camps were safe.
Meanwhile, the Director of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, stated that there would be no changes in the routine at the orientation camps. He, however, said there would be physical distancing.
He stated this on Friday at a sensitisation webinar for the 2020 Batch B Stream II corps members.
Responding to a question, he said, “No changes in the routine just that you will be observing social distancing.”
However, the NYSC Camp Safe Reopening Project Lead, Dr Oyeladun Okunromade, said there would be no religious gatherings on camp.
Okunromade said corps members would be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the orientation camps, adding that those who test positive for the virus would be isolated at approved NCDC health facilities while those who test negative would be allowed on camps.
She said a maximum of 200 corps members would resume daily, adding that the orientation exercise would still hold for 21 days.
Okunromade said, “There won’t be any form of religious gatherings in the camps. We encourage virtual activities. Mammy Market (activities) have been significantly reduced in line with the new normal. There won’t be any sitting down with friends to dine at the market but there will be take away.”
A virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said he did not have all the details noting that there was a need for proper planning to avoid what is going on at the enrolment centres of the National Identity Management Commission.
“The question is how do you put people together like that under that condition? They have not told us how they plan to do it. I don’t know how many people will be in the camps. Maybe they have made their plans,” Tomori said.
Doctors raise the alarm as NYSC reopens camp
Medical doctors from different parts of the country have faulted the plan by the National Youth Service Corps to open its orientation camps across the country and mobilise graduates for national service amid the ranging COVID-19 second wave.
This was as prominent virologist, Prof Oyewale Tomori, likened the move by the NYSC as an invitation to disaster.
The Director-General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, disclosed on Friday that corps members would be allowed on NYSC approved camps nationwide from January 19, 2021.
Tomori said reopening of the NYSC camp at this time was not safe for the country.
He said, “Having people together from different locations in the same place without face masks, washing of hands and the rest is an invitation to disaster.
“The issue of mobilisation, just like reopening of schools, should not be encouraged. Anywhere we have a congregation of people should not be encouraged. The virus is found almost all over the country, so if you are bringing people from different places, regions and locations to camp in a place then it’s not a wise thing to do.”
Also, an Ogun State-based medical doctor, Dr Oladapo Ogunlaja, said that it would be difficult for the NYSC to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols among the corps members.
Speaking in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday, he said, “For now, I don’t think it is a right decision, especially with this raging COVID-19.
Ogunlaja, who is also the NMA Chairman in Ogun State, said, “Are they going to be testing each person before they enter the camps? There are a lot of questions begging for answers. People are coming from different places and many people are not following COVID-19 protocols.
“How many people have you seen on the street using face masks? How many people do you see washing their hands regularly? How many people do you see using hand sanitiser?”
The NMA chairman equally expressed fear over the planned reopening of schools by the government, saying there was a need to tread with caution.
He added, “Even the schools they want to open, I am so scared. Just about two or three days ago, we heard about LASUCOM hostel where three students tested positive; they have to close down the medical school, yet we are talking about NYSC camps that would have thousands of young people.
“Why is government doing this? Indeed, by now, what we should be talking about is total lockdown.”
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Also, the Medical Director of Magodo Specialist Hospital, Lagos, Dr Ayo Olamijulo, expressed concern that the opening of the NYSC camp would escalate COVID-19 cases.
Olamijulo, in an interview with one of our correspondents, noted that the country was still struggling to accommodate people who had already been infected.
Olamijulo said, “The opening of NYSC camps nationwide is a wrong move. Now, it is obvious that when it comes to attending to issues that need national and international attention, we are not there. We, as a nation, are very lackadaisical. More positive results would come from the NYSC camps nationwide. It is a pity.
“Nothing is being put in place to safeguard the lives of the innocent young Nigerians who are being asked to move to camps.
“Recall that even in cities and towns now, there are not enough oxygen and bed spaces for those battling with the virus. So, how many health workers are in the camps? How many bed spaces are there? How many useful and needed drugs are there for emergencies, which we are experiencing at this period? We have to be careful not to fall into the hands of our enemies.”
While noting that countries were closing their borders and banning gatherings, Olamijulo urged parents and the youths to carefully consider the situation before taking a decision.
He added, “Individual parents should be allowed to weigh the options and decide on what to do. They have the right to ask their children to stay at home and go (for NYSC) when the situation is conducive. At the end of the day, they should know it is their children.”
In the same vein, a Cross River State-based medical doctor, Dr Innocent Abang, warned of an imminent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country with the move by the NYSC to reopen orientation camps and mobilise youths.
He said, “Nigerians are not good at observing rules. There are a lot of conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Some people don’t believe it actually exists. You can’t even force them to use face mask, let alone asking them to observe social distancing. These are the issues.”
Abang, who is also the NMA Chairman in Cross River State, added that the risk of reopening NYSC camps was particularly high as some corps members may be coming to camp from locations with high COVID-19 cases.
Also, an Ondo State-based medical practtioner Dr Stella Adegbehingbe, advised against the move by the NYSC.
In an interview Adegbehingbe, said health workers in the country found the move by the NYSC worrisome.
Adegbehingbe, who is also the NMA Chairman in Ondo State, said, “We are worried over the decision to open the NYSC camps but since they have decided to open the camps, we will appeal to the NYSC to observe the COVID-19 protocols in the camps.”
On his part, an Edo State-based medical doctor, Dr Harrison Omokhua, said the NYSC should only open camps if it could ensure adherence to safety protocols.
Omokhua, who is also the NMA Chairman in the state, said, “I think if the Federal Government is ready to enforce non-pharmaceutical control, the NYSC programme can go ahead. Enforcement of the protocols should be taken seriously.”
Also, Dr Edet Nkantah, who is the NMA Chairman in Taraba State, advised against the reopening of the NYSC camps at this time.
Nkantah said since national youth service was not an emergency, there was no reason the programme could not wait until the situation was safe.
He said, “There is no emergency as regards reopening of schools and NYSC camps. People are just afraid of economic impact of not reopening camps because graduates want to serve and get jobs, but we don’t have the capacity to cope with the virus.
“The last time camps were opened, we had 11 cases of the virus among the prospective corps members. Now they are still going from across the country at a time we have a second wave of the pandemic. So, we don’t support it and that’s the position of the NMA.”
In his reaction, the Chief Medical Director, Mt. Moriah Hospital, Lagos, Dr William Odusola, said the reopening of the NYSC camp would certainly result in spike in cases.
“There is definitely going to be more cases as a result of reopening the camp. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about it. ” Odusola said.
However, an Akwa Ibom-based medical doctor, Dr Emmanuel John, said the NYSC should go ahead and reopen its orientation camps but ensure compliance with the NCDC safety protocols.
John, who is also the Public Relations Officer of the NMA in Akwa Ibom State, said, “The NCDC guidelines on COVID-19 have not changed; so we advise people to keep to the guidelines; if they do this, there should be no fear.”
Meanwhile, an NYSC supervisor has expressed reservation about the scheduled reopening of camps, saying he and his colleagues were embarking on their postings because “we have no option.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, said the organisation was also not supplying them with anything to protect themselves while in camp.
He said they were going on their postings grudgingly, saying refusing to do so would mean such officials would not be allowed to go to any camp again.
The official said, “We are leaving (for our postings) on Monday. The camps are going to be opened on Tuesday. It is sad that we were not given any face mask or hand sanitiser. We are going to buy them with our money.”
COVID-19: Lagos, Ogun okay Monday school resumption, Edo fixes Feb 1
The Lagos State Government on Friday affirmed its earlier pronouncement that all public and private schools in the state below tertiary level should resume on Monday, January 18, for the second term of 2020/2021 academic session.
The state Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo, in a statement on Friday said the decision to reopen schools was in line with the Federal Government’s resolution after reaching a consensus with relevant stakeholders.
Adefisayo, in the statement signed by the head of public affairs in the ministry, Mr Kayode Abayomi, urged students and members of staff to adhere strictly to COVID-19 guidelines.
She said, “Schools must provide soap, wash hand basin, alcohol-based sanitisers, thermometers and other essential items across the state. Washing of hands, wearing of face masks and maintenance of social distancing must be adhered to in order to avoid further spread of the virus.”
Also, the Ogun State Government has announced Monday, January 18, as resumption date for all primary and secondary schools as well as government science and technical colleges in the state.
The Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Abayomi Arigbabu, made the announcement in Abeokuta on Friday.
Arigbabu urged parents, guardians, teachers, school administrators and other stakeholders to ensure full compliance with all COVID-19 protocols.
In a related development, the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has announced February 1, as the date for schools’ resumption in the state.
Obaseki said the curfew earlier imposed in the state would now hold between 10 pm and 5 am.
He said, “Comparing the first six weeks of the pandemic from March 23, 2020, with the first six weeks since December 1, 2020, Edo State has witnessed an 84.5 per cent rise in the number of infected persons.
Lagos treating 8,043 COVID-19 patients at home – Commissioner
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, says there are 8,043 active COVID-19 cases being managed under the state’s Home-Based Care.
Abayomi made the disclosure through his verified Twitter account, @ProfAkinAbayomi, on Friday, while giving the state’s COVID-19 update for January 12.
The new infections increased the state’s total COVID-19 infections to 37,826.
Abayomi said Lagos had so far conducted 248,794 COVID-19 tests, while three new deaths brought the total mortality recorded by the state from the pandemic to 265.
However, he said 3,151 COVID-19 patients, who had been successfully treated and recovered, were discharged from the state’s care centres.
He added that 26,174 COVID-19 recoveries were recorded in various communities in the state.
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The number of deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic globally has reached two million.
UNILORIN vows to send COVID-19 positive students home
The University of Ilorin has vowed to send COVID-19 positive students home when they resume to the campus on January 25.
The Director of Corporate Affairs of the University, Kunle Akogun, in a statement on Friday, said the school had resumed virtual learning on January 11.
“The university management has announced a phased reopening of the institution for the formal resumption of academic activities beginning from January 25, 2021.
“All students will sign an agreement that in the event that anyone tests positive to COVID-19, he/she would be sent back home to self-isolate and continue to receive lectures virtually. In case such students miss any examination, a make-up examination would be arranged for them.
Local herbs: We’ve not abandoned clinical trials on COVID-19, says NAFDAC DG
The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, has said the agency has not abandoned clinical trials on herbal medicines for COVID-19.
Adeyeye, at a virtual briefing on Friday, said the proposed importation of COVID-19 vaccines would only be approved for use by Nigerians after the agency had certified them safe for use.
She said, “Some clinical trials are going on using herbal medicines, but when you are doing a scientific experiment, the clinical trial doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a while.
“There were many applications that came to NAFDAC; before clinical trial, you have to do the listing through NAFDAC to ensure that the drug will not kill anybody. Once we examine that the product is listed and thereafter the applicants can do a clinical trial if the protocol is approved.
“Many of the applications have gone through the listing stage, few are still waiting for inspection and some are already progressing towards clinical trials.”
The NAFDAC DG warned Nigerians not to take any vaccine except the ones approved by the agency. ,,